• The Great Silk Road


    For many centuries people of the East and the West were connected by a trading route stretching from South-East Asia to the countries of the Mediterranean Sea and area called "A Silk Road" by German geographer and geologist of the XIX century Ferdinand von Richtofen. The Silk Road stretches from the East to the west for thousands of kilomatres as a two-way river with a number of tributaries. The Great Silk Road which cut the whole East stretching through the whole Asian continent was the most considerable in age and sizes. It spanned the distance of almost 12.000 km and sometime caravans needed even 1 year to cover all the distance. The Silk Road is an example of that how the mankind developed in the course of its historic being, how it passed from culture to culture, from stage to stage, how it passed from one time to a new period and how it became adult. Silk was the major commodity during those dangerous travels along steppes, deserts and mountainous paths. It was one of the most valuable fabrics, and Chinese masters kept its production technology in secret for thousands of years. However, caravans of camels carried not only silk. For centuries from the East to the West and from the West to the East they carried a great amount of raw materials and goods made from: bronze, porcelain, wool, cobalt. Besides that, the silk roads served as a channel for spreading ideas, technologies, art and religions, promoting mutual enrichment of cultures and formation of a common legacy of mankind.
    The main route of the Silk Road went through China along the Gan-Su corridor, then through the Tarima basin, and the highlands of the Pamir and Tien-Shan ranges, into Central Asia, Afghanistan, Iran, the Eastern shores of the Mediterranean, and still further on top trading centers of the Near East, Countries of Silk Road, and Europe.
    The Great Silk Road first functioned as a route from China to the capital of the Roman Empire in the 2nd century BC. It was about seven thousand kilometers long. The most valuable commodity imported from China was silk, which is an obvious explanation why this entire transcontinental trade route was named The Silk Road.
    The Great Silk Road is, in fact, a network of routes that played a highly significant role in the lives of many people in Eurasia. It was an important artery in the Ancient and middle Ages, a source of merchandise an information, and the starting point of many conflicts and wars. Along this route came into existence, and then into decline, many nations and cultures, great powers, trading centers, and capitals of many of the former empires of the world. Trading centers and capitals of these empires sprang up, flourished and gained fame, and then decayed and declined.
    The Great Silk Route is one of the most significant achievements in the history of the world civilization. The widespread network of caravan ways crossed Europe and Asia from China to the Mediterranean coast, and in ancient times served as important means of business relations and cultural exchanges between East and West. The longest part of the Silk Route lay across the territory of Central Asia and Kazakhstan. Caravans laden with silk from China, spices and precious stones from India, silver goods from Iran, Byzantine clothes, Turkic slaves, Afrasiabian ceramics, and many other goods, moved through the Kara-Kum and Kyzyl-Kum deserts, the boundless steppes of Sary-Arka; passed over the ridges of the Pamirs and Tien-Shan, the Altai and the Karatau Mountains; crossed the rivers Murgab, Amu Darya and Syr Darya.
    On the way of the caravans there were rich settlements and towns - Merv (Turkmenistan); Bukhara, Samarkand, Urgench and Khiva (Uzbekistan); Otrar, Taraz and Chimkent (Kazakhstan); Dgul, Suyab, Novokent, Balasagun, Borskon, Tash-Rabat, Osh and Uzgen (Kyrgyzstan).
    The first, the Southern branch, ran from Termez via Samarkand to Dushanbe's present location, along a tributary of Kyzyl-Su up to Alai and exited to the area of modern Irkishtam, where it switched direction towards Kashgar.
    The second, the Fergana branch, led from Samarkand via Hodjent to Isfara, Kokand and Osh.
    The third, Northern branch came from Zamin Rabat to Tashkent, Isfidjab (Chimkent), Taraz (Jambul), Nuzket (Kara-Balta), and Balasugun (Burana). From there caravans traveled along the Boom Canyon to get to the area and further to China across the San-Tash range.
    The caravan traffic proceeded at a slow pace. A good day's journey covered 8 farsahs (50 km), a not so good one 4 farsahs (25 km). The composition of the caravan trains varied. There are numerous records of some huge trains containing up to 10.000 beasts of burden. All along the route, caravan-sarais (meeting places) appeared at regular intervals. Torrential streams were tamed with bridges. There was little caravan traffic from China to the Mediterranean. Because the international route opened up access to new places, settled crop production began, alongside nomadic livestock breeding.
    The pioneer of the Great Silk road as considered by the historic tradition was Chzan Tsan, a Chinese diplomat who lived in the 1st century B.C. The fact that Central Asia had been carrying on trade Tien-Shan is verified by a big amount of Chinese coins, bronze looking glasses, silk remnants, fragments of china of Chinese production, which have been found by archeologists. Thanks to China silkworm breeding and paper manufacturing began developing in Central Asia whereas it was Central Asia that China took up cultivation of grapes, alfalfa, onion, cotton, pomegranate, walnut, fig trees and cucumbers.
    A modest commercial traveler called Franchesco Pegolotti of Bardi's firm in Florence came back home to Italy in 1355 after eight years of absence. He had covered thousands of Chinese leas, Arab farsahs and European miles of the Great Silk Road. He became the author of a book that was titled "Trade practice, or a treatise on land division, trade measures, and other things the knowledge of which is necessary for merchants of all countries".
    The paradox is that the ancient path of merchants of the East and the West got its name in the 19th century. The name was proposed by Ferdinand von Richthofen, the author of classical works on the physical geography of China and the orography of Asia. Thus following his example this name is recognized all over the world. Warmly welcomed by the world public is the decision of the UNESCO on the realization of the international program "The Great Silk Road" - a route of dialogue, mutual understanding and rapprochement of cultures. The Great Silk Road like the Phoenix bird is starting its revival.
    Start on your journey! And you will see the splendid architecture, acquaint with picturesque nature, feel hot wind of deserts and admire dazzling mountain summits.